Traditionally, much of Western civilization’s history was dominated by absolutism, the belief that a single ruler should have control over every aspect of the government and of the people’s lives. Absolute rulers had a variety of titles, including chieftain, king, shah, pharaoh, emperor, sultan, and prince. In some cultures, the absolute ruler was seen as a god in human form. Other peoples believed that their ruler had the divine right of kings, meaning that God had chosen the ruler to govern the rest. As a result, many cultures with absolute rulers practiced some form of caesaropapism, the belief that the ruler is head of both the governmental authority and the religious authority.

Example: In the Byzantine Empire, the double-headed eagle symbolized caesaropapism. The two heads stood for church and state. This symbol clearly and graphically portrayed the unity of religious and secular power in one person.

Absolutist Beliefs

Absolutism emphasizes:

  • A strong sense of order: Everything should be carefully structured, including society. Disorder and chaos are generally considered to be dangerous.
  • A clear-cut law of nature (or law of God): This law must be obeyed. According to this law, some people are inherently better than others. A natural hierarchy (a power structure in which some people have authority over others) exists. Therefore, the superior should rule the inferior. This general view is called elitism, or elite theory.
  • The wisdom of traditional values and institutions: New ideas are considered dangerous to the order of things.


In the early modern age of the Western world (beginning roughly in the early 1500s and running for about 200 years), a number of changes occurred that led to new ideologies: The European discovery of the Americas, the rise of Protestantism, the beginnings of the free-market economy, and the early stages of the scientific revolution fundamentally altered Europe. People began developing different ways of thinking to take account of these changes.

Popular pages: Political Ideologies and Styles